A Game of Divine Love Tropes

As Carlos enters the lobby of the college commons room, the playbill says:

For Mayday and the Month of Our Blessed Mother:
A Game of Analogues, Today’s Round: Divine Love Tropes
Star Players! Local and Guest!

Carlos has heard that these wit games began years ago in computer ‘chatrooms’—exchanges of people logged on to their computers at the same time. Then someone got the idea it would be fun to have them in carne—in the flesh, after all. They’ve become quite a draw at Catholic universities. Today, faculty players from three different schools will play one round of this game. Carlos hasn’t watched ‘Analogues’ before. ‘Let’s see,’ he thinks, ‘something about comparisons, images, it must be.’ He takes a place at the left of the semi-round seating area.

The three players sit on low-backed stools, each at a small table colored its own pale shade of blue or green and holding a rose-bud in a vase, a water glass, a name placard, a digital note board with glowing pencil, and a hand-held computo-dictaphone, for notes whispered under the breath as the game proceeds. The players are at three different raised levels of the stage. A cameraman in the center aisle is videotaping.

A moderator, slightly off-center in the scene, sets forth the order of players’ turns. She wears a maroon herring-bone suit skirt, open-necked blouse, and maroon ribbon scarf. In a mellow alto voice she reads out instructions from her digital note screen. Her name placard says Beatrice Ludens.

In Analogues, she says, each player thinks up comparisons, to show something about faith or spirituality. The topic of today’s round: how are sexuality and spirituality related? St. Augustine’s experience, she explains, was one-for-one replacement. After various loves and sorrows, he felt he must leave sex behind, replace it completely with spiritual joys and activities. As a type of comparison, she notes, this is not a trope but a simile: x and y are sheerly parallel and don’t interact. That is, sex is to spirituality as scaffolding is to a house: to the extent that the house is finished, it falls away. But the object of the game is to recognize other known relationships. Each of the players’ turns, she says, must end with the formula, So I say, sexuality is to spirituality as X is to Y.

Diotima Bronte, upstage left, is wearing a long, star-embroidered skirt; her head of straight black hair is bowed low to her table, her legs stretching forward under it. Robbie Lou Gittens, in a dusty rose body suit with geometric print, is leaning her head lightly on her left hand, tapping her curly-haired forehead with a finger as if to tap up good thoughts. She is drawing some chart on her marker board with a pencil of light. Umberto Remark, the third player, sits up, unmoving, in his cuffed walking shorts. He’s wearing a rakish, side-tipped khaki beret. They smile tensely at each other as Beatrice presses the green-light button to begin.

Diotima. “A Mosaic law in the Bible says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out your grain.’ Sexuality, in both the body and the psyche, treads out the grain of the human spirit, whether in passion and love-making, or in all the energies of creative mind that eros animates. We respect its goodness, and don’t deny it the body’s own joy, some of the natural food it is processing. So I say, sexuality is to spirituality as a handsome draft animal is to the bounty it provides.”

The other two players smile broadly, as if they know just where to go with this opener. Umberto whispers something briskly into his dictaphone.

Robbie Lou. “My thought is similar, but with beautiful coins instead of livestock. In the gospels a woman searches her house for a lost coin, that stands for the kingdom of God. A novelist named Shelby Foote once said about his writing: ‘I thank God for every lustful thought I ever had. They’re the very coin of my enterprise.’ So sexuality is a kind of inner richness, not a primitive force, much less an evil one. It’s a realm of psychic funding and a medium of profit—because sexual pleasure is much enhanced by creativity and spirituality, as well as vice versa. The economy of these powers is a circulation through body and spirit, in fullness of life. I think sex relates to spirituality pretty much the same way as it does to creativity. So I say, sex is to spirituality as coinage is to wealth.”

Umberto has twenty seconds to respond. He takes a sip of water and reads something silently from his dictaphone screen.

Umberto. “These first two inventions are good, but they both make one term less valued than the other. I like more balanced analogues. I think spirituality and sex are the two poles of a pendulum swing, at the center of each person. Spirituality, at one end, is a projected, large-scale energy circuit, that creates meaning. The energies flow out into a vast unbounded sphere of matter-energy and social value. This is the place where meaning is created–the kind of meaning that makes people and things matter, so we care for them. It’s the place of human and extra-human love. In prayer and meditation we touch into that sphere as divine presence ‘with a face.’ We address God the beyond consciously. At the other pole of the pendulum swing, sexuality is the function within matter where this projected-semiotic makes its fruitful entries and returns. Meaning moves through constant interchange between matter and value. This interchange is like a pendulum swing.”

He drops one hand from the wrist and swings it slowly back and forth.

“At different times of life people’s actions focus nearer to the material, bodily end of the swing, or nearer the projected-semiotic or spiritual end. But there’s always a complete arc. God is fully God-present at both poles, just in different ways. At one end ‘God is with us’–Emmanuel–in the aggressional ways of love, passion, song, liturgy and ritual, childbirth, sweat, and building dreams into reality–“The builder does not build in vain if the Lord is his help.” At the other end of the pendulum swing, God is with us as the ‘uncreated Light,’ in passion-stilled adoration, by mystics or by anyone. So I say, sex and other passions are to quiet spirituality as one end of a pendulum swing is to the other.”

Beatrice presses her bell button, turning on a lavender light above her head and signaling the end of round one and a break of twenty-five seconds. Diotima crosses her legs and stares intently at Umberto, ignoring her dictaphone, thinking over his image.

Diotima. “The pendulum is good, but I like metaphors of living things rather than mechanical ones. So think of some hill country and a plain below—a watershed with its rivers. The water is shared by ranchers and farmers. The rancher = spirituality, the farmer = sexuality. As a Psalmist says: “The cattle on a thousand hills are thine.” The ranchers roam over the highland slopes and meadows. Their herds drink only a little of the water rushing by. The farmers below are more efficient with the water, and their irrigation generates humidity, so more water falls into the watershed than would without them. The fertility-farmers want dams and canals, they want water spread over crops for greening and fruition. The spirituality-ranchers want the water always tumbling down streambeds open to their access. With good arrangements, there’s water for both. So I say, sex is to spirituality as farmers are to ranchers.”

Robbie Lou. “That last one sounds backwards. Maybe the farmers are spirituality–a fostering, low-keyed spirituality of calm routines. They want the rivers all channeled slowly into the fields, where work and prayer and liturgy quietly produce spiritual crops. Paul said the “fruits of the spirit” should be cultivated in the psyche–love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, kindness, and self-control. Of course, now and then in the spirit-farmer’s life, a herd of shining white cattle or fleecy sheep might come pounding across the fields, knocking down the fences, having drunk lots of the water from the canals above. The shining herd may have to do some enriching of the fields, even at the cost of destroying some crops. Either way, in the long run the interaction is good. So I say: sex is to spirituality as ranchers are to farmers.”

Robbie Lou is noted for these reversals of her opponents’ inventions. Umberto has been drawing on his marker board in quick, upshooting lines while she spoke. Now it’s his turn.

Umberto. “The shining herd romping through fields reminds me of forest fires. People used to put them out immediately. But then we realized that they’re part of the cycle of life in a forest. They kill mold and other infestations, foster new seedlings, and allow small animals and brush to contribute their special nutrients to the forest soil. So I say, sex is to spirituality is as fire is to health.”

Beatrice’s bell and lavender light signal the end of round two. The third and final round will be sudden death, with no extended break until a player wins. Diotima takes two sips from her water glass. Beatrice Ludens makes some notes with her light pencil.

Diotima. “The monsoons of northern India show that idea also. They bring violent winds and floods, ruining food that’s not well stored, downing trees, killing unwary people and animals in the flood plains. Yet they’re the life of the region. They awaken dry rivers, fill desert lakes and water holes, and enable the wild white asses to mate and foal. An ancient Hindu poet said the monsoon is a divine army, with the lightning its banner, the thunder its drums. So I say: sex is to spirituality as the monsoon is to the rich life of India.”

Robbie Lou. “These metaphors of fire and storm for sex are misplaced. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to the assembled people exactly in tongues of fire and rushing wind. So I say: spirituality is to sex as fire and wind are to the bodies of flesh they animate.”

Umberto. “These images of violent forces do express some elements of the connection, but as I said before, they unbalance the terms. A better trope of living things would see the sexual and the spiritual as a crop rotation. Always growing the same crop in the same field depletes the soil. Passionate, in-love sexuality could be the red beans, restoring nitrogen, where the fine soft-white wheat of nourishing spiritual crops can then be grown in alternate seasons. Or, passionate love might be the shining wheat, while spirituality is the restorative, high protein lentils. So I say: sex is to spirituality as crop 1 is to crop 2, and vice versa.”

Umberto smiles beneficently like an operatic tenor bowing after his favorite aria, and drops his head slightly. Diotima starts her next invention, not needing the twenty seconds.

Diotima. “Better yet, two kinds of plant can grow symbiotically–like the elm and the grape vine in ancient Italy, which was an emblem of marriage. Or nowadays, the stem from a strain of grapes with disease-resistant roots is the base of the grapevine. It gives and takes fluids from the shoots of delicious varietal grapes that are grafted onto it. Which is the spirituality, which the sexuality? I say: sex is to spirituality as the swelling root is to the succulent grape. And vice versa.”

Beatrice’s bell and golden light signal the end of the game. She rules that Diotima has won, because her last analogue, besides being vivid and brief, pulled together the best things from the other inventions. It offered a balance of the two terms, and the most interaction between them, which a trope by definition should have. The players and Beatrice all shake hands. Then a boy in an angel costume with wings passes a tray of wine glasses, and all four begin sipping and chatting.

‘Say what?!’ Father Carlos mumbles, as he gets up and moves out with the other spectators. The two guys in front of him are talking about monsoons and wild white asses. ‘I don’t remember that stuff from my Poetics of Spirituality class, Carlos thinks. Some of these characters are pretty far gone and wooly nowadays. In my time the subject matter was more rigorous. In our ’Poetics‘ class, Father Murphy was for legends of the saints of Ireland, and reciting the ‘Sophia’ chant from Wisdom.